Unpaid apprenticeships: Gentlemen barbers

Cutting into a career path with the masters.

Huang Ching

Published: 20 June 2017, 12:25 PM

Apprenticeships are a rather alien idea for youths more familiar with vernacular like “internships” or “part-timing”. Nevertheless, apprenticeships are essential within unique industry landscapes for fresh employees to gain the necessary experience required.

In the Singapore’s barbershop scene, mentors shoulder the responsibility of grooming unpaid apprentice barbers into full-fledged professional barbers through the challenging process of on-job-training and studies.

Zuhair Zeus, 24, has been cutting hair professionally for over two years now, and dishes out some of the finest clean-cuts in Singapore. But like many others in his profession, he started out by doing an unpaid apprenticeship for six months.

“It was close to impossible to get by. I had no fixed income and I could only continue doing home cuts on my free time to make extra money on the side,” he recalled.

Every haircut is a different challenge for Zuhair. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/HUANG CHING

Zuhair first expressed a passion for creating stylish haircuts at the age of 21. He began learning the basics of barber cuts from video tutorials on YouTube and invited a few of his close friends to try out his newly developed expertise.

“Word back then was that Zeus was the next stylist on the block. He was a lot of my friends’ go-to barber back in the days,” said Vikash Singh, a childhood friend and frequent customer of the established barber, even in his early days.

Coupled with a curated Instagram feed showcasing his cuts, Zuhair’s efforts were noticed by an original barbershop pioneer, who invited him to join the Grease Monkey Barber Garage crew as an unpaid apprentice.

The Grease Monkey Barber Garage, the place where it all started for Zuhair. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/HUANG CHING

“The feeling of being scouted by a pro is simply indescribable,” the up-and-coming barber commented, “but I was aware that this job choice will not please my parents, probably because the older generation have more negative stereotypes associated with barbers.”

Despite the poor prospects his family associated with becoming a barber, the aspiring stylist went ahead to take on the unpaid apprenticeship.

Apprentices are expected to clean and maintain the barbershop’s equipment. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/HUANG CHING

Apprenticeship meant having a no income, although he was required to work every day. As a result, Zuhair often had to skip meals, work ad hoc jobs, and schedule late-night home cuts just to survive.

This payless predicament takes its toll on apprentices, and many individuals who are driven initially to develop their barbering skills burn out after a period.

Tough it was to get by, Zuhair persevered and took pleasure in little things, from small talk with clients to learning new shaving techniques and watching mentor barbers in action every day.

“Mentors are extremely important when it comes to apprenticeship. You really need a mentor to be real with you, be brutally honest and tell you off if he has to,” Zuhair said.

It took Zuhair six months of hard work before he officially climbed from being an apprentice to becoming a junior barber.

“It was wicked man! It felt like graduation to me and I became more confident than ever to perform cuts on all types of different hair,” exclaimed Zuhair.

At a price of $30, students and NSF can experience an authentic gentleman barber cut. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/HUANG CHING

Now a senior barber, Zuhair continues to get his name out with back-to-back appointments every day, and future plans to collaborate with other barbers in the local and global scene.

His advice to all aspiring barbers? Make clear considerations before opting to be an apprentice – do not simply jump on the bandwagon.

“Always remember why you chose this job in the first place and learn to better yourself with every cut you make, because there will always be someone better than you. That’s my motivation every day,” Zuhair said, adamantly.

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